Karen Wong’s career has been immersed in fine art. Accordingly, her dress-sense is as vibrant as it is conceptual.
She has commissioned Suited Atelier on three custom designs, the most-striking is made from supple, fire engine-red deadstock denim.
“My attraction to suits is this notion of fluidity and androgyny – that I'm able to dip my toe into both the masculine and feminine sides of me,” says Karen.
“The idea of ‘the power suit,’ where you can take on characteristics that are attributed to the ideal of masculinity. Typically, women have the ability to be less conforming in terms of how they approach the suit. So being able to inject that whim or personality or punkiness, which makes wearing suits that much more meaningful.”
Last year Wong ended her 15-year tenure at the New Museum (she had been Deputy Director), to form GBA/Guilty by Association with Derek Wiggins. The platform is due to launch this fall and will showcase work by talents who otherwise wouldn’t be on the radar of the Blue Chip establishment. “It's essentially a digital bridge for the creative unseen across the entire nation,” Karen says. “This is an amazing opportunity to take an antiquated ecosystem and inject fresh energy and create a parallel universe. We're looking at emerging artists across the nation who are BIPOC, female, and LGBTQIA.”
Suits have had a lasting impression on Karen since her North Carolina childhood. She admired images of Bianca Jagger suited-up for Studio 54 and Helmut Newton’s moody Paris streetscapes depicting le smoking. “Even when I was a teenager, when you're trying on different costumes and identities, the suit was always a safe space,” Karen says. “A lot of it has to do with construction. There's architecture in a jacket – also the way suit embraces your body, like a shield. So, it feels quite protective. As a young Asian woman growing up in the south that was subconsciously important to me.”
Karen’s sartorial journey with Suited Atelier (and in fact the origin of Suited Atelier) began when she was seated with its founder Ash Owens at an art world dinner. Karen was wearing a chainmail dress. “Anybody who has a deep love for art and design is interested in the creative process,” Karen says, “and to be able to work with Ash, who I view as a textile artist, it's such a buzz. There's passion and love to it, which you can't get off the rack. I was their first client, I jumped at the opportunity to be Guinea pig. Some friends of mine had brought me fabric from Ghana. I had been holding onto it for years. I knew it had to be something special.”
“Karen empowers those around her,” Ash says. Their process was collaborative, each time a different experience and journey. “We had a number of conversations,” Karen says, “and looked at pictures. We talked about how this suit would make me feel, why this fabric was so special. And in those conversations, the details emerged.” The result was an arresting and hypnotic amalgam of black and turquoise Op=art dynamics. “It's stunning and I debuted it at a museum gala,” Karen recalls. “Four other women subsequently reached out to Ash about making them suits.”
Karen’s third Suited Atelier number is a three-piece in a Prince of Wales pattern injected with a bold primary yellow line– the lining is a sumptuous jade. Karen pairs it with matching yellow heels or sneakers. “When you dedicate yourself to a suit,” Karen explains, “in some ways it becomes this canvas where the accessories really tie it all together.”
Karen hopes to round out her Suited Atelier collection with one for every day of the week – each will surely push the boundaries of what a suit can be.
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